Wednesday, December 2, 2015 10:24 am
BUENOS AIRES — Want to learn how to break into the computerised heart of a medical device or an electronic voting machine? Maybe a smartphone or even a car? Thanks to the legacy of military rule and a culture of breaking rules of all sorts, Argentina has become one of the best places on earth to find people who could show you how.
As Silicon Valley’s talent war has gone global, particularly for those skilled at breaking into things, this Latin American nation has become a rich recruiting ground for corporations and foreign governments. Companies need hackers to help defend against online criminals and state-sponsored spies. And as the world’s critical infrastructure moves online and the threat of war moves into cyberspace, governments are desperate to acquire hackers’ tools.
“Cheating the system is part of the Argentine mentality,” said Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentine security researcher who taught himself to hack as a young teenager living in Paraná, a small town in the northeastern part of the country. Mr. Cerrudo recently gained attention for successfully hacking into traffic light systems in cities across the United States.
“Unless you are rich, you grow up without a computer or reading books. To access new software, you have to hack it, and you have to teach yourself everything from the ground up,” he said.
Within Latin America, Brazil has become known in recent years as the world leader in Internet banking fraud. But Argentina’s hackers have a reputation for creativity.
In particular, they are known for their ability to find so-called zero-day flaws, which are unpatched holes in widely used technology that can be used to spy on or even destroy adversaries’ computer networks.
Technology companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have encrypted their products and services so that in many cases the only way to monitor a target’s communications is to hack directly into its device. As a result, there is a new urgency among governments in acquiring zero-day exploits.
A mix of executives from around the world, government officials, contractors and — or so it was rumoured — spies gathered in Buenos Aires in October in an industrial building converted into a cultural center to watch hacking done the Argentine way at the 11th annual EkoParty, the largest hacking conference in Latin America.